Martin advances agenda as President of Western Interstate Region of National Association of Counties

July 2, 2013

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – John Martin, Chairman of the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, was installed as President of the Western Interstate Region (WIR) of the National Association of Counties (NACO) in May of 2013 at WIR’s 2013 conference, hosted by Coconino County in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Martin finds it an honor to represent the 15-state region and is advancing an agenda consistent with WIR’s mission and his own deeply held beliefs concerning local government and public lands. “First, I want to listen,” said Martin, chair of the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners. “Then, I have direct goals to accomplish, centering on encouraging outside-of-the-box thinking on how the federal government views some specific national lands issues.”

Martin and the leaders in counties across the 15 states that make up WIR (AK, HI, WA, OR, CA, ID, NV, UT, AZ, MT, WY, CO, NM, ND, SD) have some clout in discussions about federal lands, because 80% of the nation’s federal lands are located in the WIR states. Only 15% of public lands are located in other regions across the continental United States, and 5% are in territories, such as Guam and Puerto Rico.

Martin seeks to bring greater scrutiny to two issues, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and access to public lands, specifically historical claims by local governments to roads within public lands.

PILT, payments from the federal government to local governments, helps offset losses in property taxes associated with federal lands within the boundaries of the local government. Property taxes are the primary source of revenue for county governments. Federal lands are non-taxable, so PILT helps compensate local governments for the lost revenue. PILT is especially important to Garfield County where two thirds of its land is federally owned or managed.

Martin believes WIR can correct the main flaw in the PILT program: no permanent funding source to make PILT payments.

Martin proposes an amendment to the “Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF),” which would allow permanent funding for PILT. Funded by fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas, the LWCF is currently used to acquire and preserve land, water, and easements within national parks, forests, and wilderness and wildlife areas. The amendment would add the word “maintenance” to the fund, “Land and Water Conservation and Maintenance Fund (LWCMF),” and expand the purposes of the fund to include PILT permanently.

“There is currently $14 billion or so in that fund,” Martin said. “The ‘maintenance’ term describes how the money would be used, to make permanent and mandatory the payments to counties and states for managing federal lands within their borders. And it would allow the continuation of purchasing conservation easements, as well as critical habitat for endangered species.”

“We’re making a good fund better,” Martin added, “and we’re going to stop the big problem we have now, wondering whether PILT is going to be reauthorized or not. That’s not right.” Martin says this move would release $465 million of discretionary funding to counties, while not increasing taxes or affecting the federal budget. Martin’s second proposal involves the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The proposal involves rights-of-way that were originally granted to the public by the Mining Law of 1866, and are commonly referred to as R.S. 2477 Roads. Ownership of many of those grants has continued unresolved for up to 110 years, often involving lengthy expensive litigation. Under the legislation, Congress would establish a legislative policy and procedure to establish ownership of the R.S. 2477 roads efficiently and without costly litigation.

Martin will present these issues to the WIR Executive Committee, scheduled to meet in Grand Junction in early October.